Friday, January 18, 2013

Missing Something: Dancing Blind

I give more experienced guys a hard time for being unaware while dancing. Some are blissfully unaware of their dancing or surroundings, and a few could do almost as well with blindfolds.

The question we all need to ask ourselves is, "Where am I blind, and who can I ask that I trust and will be straight with me?"

We all miss so much at different points, and we are not alone; our partners miss things too. The reality is we are juggling quite a bit while social dancing and it's easy to miss some details.

Beginning/intermediate dancers deserve lots of slack, as it's easy to be overwhelmed with details. We are all blind to some things, but over time our awareness should be expanding from a dance perspective.

I found this fascinating video, and it provides some interesting insights. Here is the ground rule for watching: "Count the number of passes made by the people in white shirts, while they move the basketball around." (This will make sense when you see the clip below.)

Please watch the clip BEFORE reading further!
It's under two minutes.

You watched it, right? (OK... I'm assuming you're an adult and took the time.)

I didn't see the obvious in the video above the first time. I replayed the entire clip a couple times to verify my personal blindness.

When we’re focused in one area, the rest of the details slip away. It's normal, and even when we know we are being tested--as in the clip above--we can miss things that seem like no-brainers when we look back.

Researchers call the concepts in the clip by several names, including "perception blindness," "change blindness" and "inattention blindness." They all simply mean: When we focus on one area, we often become blind in other areas. When teaching about music I call this concept "Selective Focus" and it comes into play as we listen to different instruments playing in a song. (A huge subject for another day.)

You see this concept playing out on the dance floor with beginners; most are naturally unaware of a large set of dancing issues. Guys may be so focused on their footwork and patterns they barely see their partners for complete dances. Some lead their partners into moves that run into other couples on the floor. Ladies may hit someone in the head with some over zealous arm styling they recently learned in a class. Stuff happens.

Over time if the blindness persists, it grows to be a bigger problem, as people hold more experienced dancers to a different standard. After dancing a few years, I have no excuse for not paying attention to a much wider set of issues compared to the new dancer, especially in the areas related to the music.

At the social clubs or classes there's a huge difference between someone figuring it out during the early stages, and the ones who are unaware but have danced for a year or more.

The next time you see a dancer struggling and you know they're a beginner, find a way to encourage them to stay in the game. The new dancers deserve our respect and encouragement. While they are focused on the fundamentals, it's very difficult to see a wide set of issues obvious to the more experienced dancers.

If you're a new dancer, don't worry about it now, since everybody has a hundred blind spots at the start. You have to walk before you can run and even if someone points out twenty things you could improve, most people need to start with simple things and build over time.

The guys who are clueless after being around a while need some subtle hints to take some lessons and/or find some mentors (not a bad thing for dancers at all levels.)

If you've been dancing a while, it's a more complex question that often requires an outside reference point. That means not asking your mom or your puppy, but finding someone you respect (an instructor, peer or sometimes just a video camera or a mirror.)

Let me know what you're doing to eliminate your blind spots. Please click on the comments link below and add your thoughts!

Related Articles:
Unaware Club for Men
How Long Before I Get Good

Suggested Videos:
Music4Dancers: Free YouTube Musicality Series

Donation Page:
This site and the Music4Dancers video series are supported by your donations. No other ads!
All contributions appreciated!

Connect with me: ("Like" the page)
Follow me on Twitter (@UnlikelySalsero)

This article was originally published in 2008. I've polished it and edited some details before the republish.


  1. Interesting concept. I'd be curious to do a poll of say 50 dancers, various ability, but ask their profession, and dance experience. I'd bet that the people with a spatial job (forklift driver?) would be more aware on the dance floor. Just a geeks thoughts.

  2. Maybe... I think they say around a third to half the people will see something strange the first time around.

    Some people have a stronger focus, so they can screen out other things. With the counting task, some will do better than others getting the count right but ignoring anything else.

    My guess is with 50 dancers you would get similar results to a larger crowd, but that's just my gut and I have no way of really knowing.

    One thing I've seen over and over: On the floor there are a set of guys who miss lots of things around them, even though others see them clearly.

  3. For beginners - we need to both cut them some slack and slowly help them along.

    My issue is with the experienced dancers who are so oblivous to everything else around them. The bang and bump and step on others on a regular basis.

    I live in a latin country and it never ceases to amaze me how few bumps and bangs happen on truly congested dance floors. The difference: they grew up with this situation. It is what they know, it is normal. Having a big dance floor to enjoy is not their normal so they learned to adapt to the conditions. With help of course......

  4. I totally agree with you. The more experienced dancers are totally different than the beginners.

    Check out the article referenced at the bottom called "Unaware Club for Men"

    You'll see we totally agree that some guys dance for years and are blind to their surroundings.

  5. Great article , Don. Keep 'em coming!

  6. I am a pretty experience dancer but I'm thinking of taking a few private lessons. The funny thing is I don't quite know what I should work on. I am not aware of what I am not aware of. I'll ask the instructor for some suggestions. It will be interesting to see what she says. I will have to steel my ego for the feedback.

    1. Marty,

      With the right instructor that's fine, just ask them "What are the top 3 things I could do to refine my dancing..." and see what they say. I'd also ask "why?" about those 3 items.

      Most instructors could find 40 things I need to improve, but we can only do a few at a time.

      Ask that question to a couple instructors, then select the one who provides the most insightful answers.

      If you're already selected the instructor, it's still a decent question that will expand your awareness of some blind spots or areas ripe for improvement.

      You are very smart to consider a set of privates after dancing a while.


I love feedback. Your thoughts, feelings and comments are appreciated. Civil disagreements and other points of view are always welcomed!

Feel free to send me private mail if appropriate.

Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero